At Work: Partnerships - Collaborators - The Community Equipment Consortium - The eBay of independent living

Mathew Little

Three charities joined forces on a website to distribute community equipment.

Government ministers frequently laud the ability of charities to add value to public services. The website www.communityequipment.com, dubbed "eBay for local authorities", is a perfect example.

The site is run by the RNID, the RNIB and the Red Cross, which together wanted to improve the provision of independent-living aids to disabled people.

Second-hand help

The site, which enables local councils to buy second-hand equipment such as wheelchairs, Zimmer frames, hoists and beds from each other, was set up by the Department of Health. But the three charities pitched to take it over in 2005 after they began to lobby the Government over the issue of community equipment.

According to Brian Lamb, director of communications at the RNID, the deafness charity's success in distributing digital hearing aids free of charge to NHS patients suggested it could spearhead reform in other areas.

"We felt the same approach could be applied to community equipment," he says. "We wanted to improve the provision of kit by providing the public sector with a better means of accessing and recycling equipment."

The consortium now owns the site and does not receive any government funding. Each member has invested £15,000 in the site, which is managed by the RNID.

The consortium has also submitted funding bids to the Department of Health to provide advice to disabled people on how they can buy community equipment directly.

Fazilet Hadi, director of policy at the RNIB, says: "It took a while to persuade the Government to take community equipment a bit more seriously.

We are keen for disabled people to get more information about what equipment is out there and how they can get hold of it."

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